As enrollment grows at colleges and universities around the country, dining service teams are left to figure out how to keep pace with burgeoning student bodies. In addition to long-term fixes such as adding new dining halls, a number of schools are turning to alternative solutions that don’t require the same degree of resources. Here’s a sampling of six such tactics.
1. Offer an express option
Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., offers students an express window where they can grab lunch to go without waiting in line at the dining hall. The window offers students a choice between two sandwiches or a sandwich and a salad, which replaces their lunch or dinner meal swipe. Both options also include chips or pretzels, fruit, carrots, a cookie and a beverage.
2. Shuffle popular offerings
To ease congestion in one of Purdue University’s most crowded dining halls, Chief Financial Officer Bill Sullivan moved sushi—a popular menu item—to the West Lafayette, Ind., campus’s less busy eateries, encouraging students to visit a variety of dining halls.
3. Make a food truck part of the plan
To accommodate a growing student body, the University of Iowa added a food truck to its meal plan. The Street Hawk Food Truck is available to students—as well as Iowa City residents—from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every weekday. Guests are able to choose from a variety of menu items including tacos and vegetarian options.
4. Lean on mobile tech
To keep undecided students from slowing down serving lines, Sodexo recently introduced the Bite app at several of the schools it serves, allowing students to view the menu at different dining halls on campus and decide what they’d like to eat ahead of time.
5. Consider new operating hours
When students complained about long lines for weekend brunch at the University of Delaware’s three dining halls, the Newark, Del., university decided to extend its operating hours on weekend mornings and now offers a continental breakfast from 9 to 10:30 a.m. before brunch is served.
6. Promote less-popular items
At Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., Sodexo Area General Manager Jeffrey Scott noticed that many students continually grabbed food from just one or two stations in the dining hall. To battle long lines and disperse traffic, he began actively promoting the options at the less-popular stations to raise awareness for what else is on offer.